Embrace the hype and pass the toast

My go-to sandwich when visiting an unfamiliar diner or lunch spot is usually a BLT. It’s hard to mess up bacon, lettuce, and tomato on bread — at least, not too badly. But a skilled cook, using the right ingredients, can transform the combination into something superb: salty bacon, crisp lettuce, sweet tomato, and a schmear of mayo all nestled within a couple of slices of perfectly toasted sourdough. The Cuisine Stupide BLT Index is not the sole measure of restaurant quality, but it’s a good initial yardstick.

Often what falls short is the tomato. The fruit that carries that name most months of the year, in most everyday eateries and supermarkets, may indeed be red and round but has all the succulence of unflavored gelatin. A true garden-grown tomato, heirloom or otherwise, is a different animal entirely, one that immediately elevates a BLT and everything else it touches. Including my lips.

So I was intrigued when Bon Appetit magazine made something called “tomato toast” the centerpiece of its August “Simple Issue.” And even more intrigued when tomato toast recipes and photos began spreading across Facebook and Instagram like a tomato plant that had outgrown its cage. In recent weeks, food bloggers have decided that tomato toast is, if not the best thing since sliced bread, certainly the most noteworthy since someone toasted that bread and put avocado on it. Huffington Post embraced the hype to the hilt last week, breathlessly declaring 2018 “The Summer of Tomato Toast.”

At the risk of adding to this viral contagion, Cuisine Stupide feels compelled to weigh in. Our conclusion: Tomato toast is awesome. And the one created by Bon Appetit‘s senior food writer, Andy Baraghani, beats any BLT and is certainly worthy of celebration.

True, tomato toast is nothing new. Three summers ago, Epicurious writer Rebekah Peppler beat Bon Appetit to the trend by offering 13 variations of tomato toast. In Spain, pan con tomate is a popular item at tapas bars and has been declared that country’s national breakfast. The French have their tomato tartine. And the Italians, who do tomatoes better than anyone, not only have their own iconic take on tomato toast (bruschetta) but a classic deconstructed version (panzanella).

What makes Baraghani’s recipe so remarkable is that, despite the fact that it calls for 12 separate ingredients, the tomato remains the star. The garlic mayonnaise is creamy and pungent but remains respectfully in the background; the toppings — fresh chives, toasted sesame seeds, salt, pepper, and lemon zest — are delicious guests that don’t ruin the party. Biting into what’s basically an open-face sandwich, you get little pops of technicolor texture and flavor, all delivered on a slice of crunchy but tender toast, the original comfort food.

It doesn’t hurt that our garden has produced beautiful tomatoes in plentiful numbers this year — the Talent variety, developed here in Southern Oregon and perfectly suited to tomato toast.

Naturally, the tomato toast backlash is already beginning. Meghan Splawn, former culinary director for Alton Brown (and who now happens to live in Cuisine Stupide’s former hometown, Boise), took the Bon Appetit recipe to task in a Kitchn.com post this week, citing too many components, too many tools, too many techniques required. For example, Splawn rightly points out that one of the ingredients, Aleppo peppers, probably isn’t easily obtainable outside of New York City — a bit of culinary myopia that’s all too common among big-city chefs and cooking writers.

On the other hand, Baraghani says the Aleppos are optional; when Chef Sin decided to try the recipe, she didn’t even look for them. We didn’t miss them, and she didn’t find the rest of the recipe particularly difficult or onerous. We loved this take on tomato toast so much, in fact, we had it again for dinner the next day. We might have it for breakfast tomorrow.

Unless we have avocado toast instead.


Tomato Toast with Chives and Sesame Seeds

Recipe by Andy Baraghani, Bon Appetit

1 garlic clove, finely grated
½ cup mayonnaise
Kosher salt
½ lemon
4 ¾”-thick slices country-style bread, toasted
3 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. finely chopped chives
2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Aleppo-style pepper (for serving; optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil (for drizzling)

Mix garlic and mayonnaise in a small bowl. Squeeze about 1 tsp. juice from lemon half into bowl; season with kosher salt. Hang on to lemon.

Spread a generous layer of seasoned mayonnaise over toast; shingle a few tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with chives, sesame seeds, sea salt, black pepper, and Aleppo-style pepper. Finely grate some lemon zest from reserved lemon over and drizzle with some oil.

Makes 4 servings.

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